“Something nice to study,
phoning up a buddy
Being in my nuddy”
– Ian Dury, Reasons To Be Cheerful
There’s no denying the bleak times we’re living through but even in the darkest of days there is light and laughter and joy. Inspired by the late, great Ian Dury, we asked some well known people to tell us their own reasons to be cheerful. Here’s what they said …
Former president of Ireland
I attack Covid’s cheerlessness each morning with Steve Earle and Sharon Shannon blasting out Galway Girl in the kitchen. It scatters the gloom. Where would we be without music? Especially music to dance to while the kettle is boiling.
My telly makes me happy. At 6pm when I finish pretending to work I like to watch Walter Presents. Walter Luzzolino is a geeky-looking Italian who goes around Europe and finds all these great crime dramas where you can watch people being murdered in France or Sweden or Holland or Iceland. It’s like going on a holiday but with lots of murder and in terms of pandemic distraction and escapism it is saving my life at the moment.
Singer, DJ, TV presenter
There’s many things that have brightened my days in the last while, but learning to make homemade cappuccino on a coffee machine that allegedly has been on the kitchen counter top for years was a highlight. Living so close to the coastline made lockdown bearable. I love letting the sea breeze hit my face, blowing away most worries as I look over towards Ireland’s Eye or Lambay. I painted the garage, I planted flowers in both back and front gardens. I taught my daughter to cycle.
I am cheerful because of enthusiastic long-distance runners on YouTube. Nate Helming and Coach Holly, Sage Canaday, Sandi Nipaver, Ben Parkes, Seth James Demoor. They release videos a couple of times a week that show the ups and downs of high-level athletic training. It fascinates me when someone’s actual job is to be in peak physical condition! How good must that be? Not required in my line of work.
We’ve never really done much in the garden but during lockdown I started setting bushes and planting a lot more. Then I heard about these things called “flower bombs”, and we ordered a load of them, and they are out there in the garden growing now, tall as anything, nearly as big as myself. We’ve daisies and poppies and big sunflowers and all sorts. It makes us happy just to look at them.
Finishing whatever work I’m doing and then lying on the sofa, very still, trying to encourage the cat to come and drape herself across me, purring. It’s part hot water bottle, part cosy scarf, part ASMR, all cat. The relaxation is DEEP. Plus, when things are tricky, animals remind us that so long as there’s food in our bowl and the litter tray gets changed periodically, things could be a lot worse.
Dr Ebun Joseph
Author, social justice activist
I love African food and nothing gives me pleasure like anticipating digging into a bowl of efo riro and pounded yam after a hard day of presentation or teaching. Efo riro is derived from the Yoruba language in Nigeria. Efo means ”Green leafy vegetable” or spinach, and riro, means ”to stir”. Efo riro basically means ”stirred leafy vegetable.” Pounded yam is like mash potatoes but with a bit more consistency. You can take the girl out of Africa, you cannot take Africa out of the girl.
I’ve often said that I couldn’t be friends with someone who didn’t like PG Wodehouse. While I tend to default to the Jeeves & Wooster books – I find the Blandings novels less engaging, even slightly waspish at times – I recently came across his memoir of sorts, Over Seventy, which is evasive but charming, and very, very funny. It includes what may be my favourite literary joke of all time: “Shakespeare’s stuff is different from mine, but that is not necessarily to say that it is inferior.” If I’d written something that good, I’d have cracked open a bottle and taken the rest of the week off.
Author of Reasons To Be Cheerful
I am cheered every single day by my dog Peggy. We play hide and seek with a toy monkey. Peggy knows not to come into the kitchen while I hide him and waits patiently in the hall listening for clues. When I’ve hidden him, I shout “Okay!” and in she trots to methodically search the room. When she finds him she is genuinely delighted and parades about proudly before darting out to hide him from me, always in the same place in the sitting room. I indulge her by pretending to look around a while before spotting him. Then we do it all over again.
Author and Aisling co-creator
My reason to be cheerful is the new CMAT song I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby. It’s the third banger she’s released during the pandemic and I’ve already listened to it at least 50 times.
Prof Luke O’Neill
Music is of course our saviour in every situation, and one song I’ve been playing lately is just so wacky that it gets me every time. It’s by a Welsh band called The Automatic and it’s called Monster. The lyrics are: “What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a monster? is it a monster?” Now the monster could be the next phase of this damn pandemic, but I like to think of it as the cavalry coming to rescue us. Do yourself a favour and play it. It will make you smile.
When I wake up too early and can’t get back to sleep because I’m worrying about the state of the world, I find a 20-minute episode of Schitt’s Creek (about a family who lose everything and have to make new lives from scratch). A real comfort.
In A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway describes what it was like to be a young writer in 1920s Paris, learning his craft among the greatest artists and conversationalists of his day. I had my Moveable Feast experience on Zoom during lockdown, by taking part in a twice-weekly online literary salon called A Leap in the Dark, hosted and curated by critic, man of letters, and avuncular giddy goat, David Collard. Over the course of 50 events, run according to a baggy ham radio aesthetic, I had the pleasure of hearing many of the greatest writers, poets, translators and artists perform their work. Often moving and inspiring, and usually hilarious, it was a group bonding exercise: a way of confronting, understanding, and playing with what was going on around us. I take from it treasured memories and warm new friendships.
Dr Catherine Motherway
Consultant in Intensive Care Unit, University Hospital Limerick
There are loads of reasons to be cheerful. Mine is walking in the crisp autumn weather with my two sheepdogs Sandy and Shep ( the new puppy). Best at night with a full moon and my husband in tow. We occasionally see owls and during the day a family of sparrowhawks.
On Mother’s Day I received the Lego Hogwarts castle which I’ve wanted for so long – it has over 6,000 pieces, and so I spent an hour every evening for four weeks building it. I also did a lot of family TikToks which were so much fun. And I walked and walked and walked. I think what kept me feeling sane the most was the walking. I felt so free, and kept breathing in that beautiful sunny fresh air, walking through Malahide Castle or Malahide’s Coast Road every morning at 6am with my baby and reminding myself about what matters most in the world.
My little doggy. Her name is Dua. It’s the Islamic word for prayer. Having loads of time to spend with her is the best thing ever.
Being back in the company of actors and audiences again has really cheered me up.
Most days, what’s been keeping me cheerful has been engaging with feel-good content and doing things that reset my mood. “Dress for how you want to feel” has been my motto on many mornings as I take my place at my make-up corner. There’s a thrill that comes from adorning my face in whatever colour my eyes are drawn to. If I’ve spent all day at home, playing music and dancing allows you to reminisce about what it felt like to have your favourite song played on a night out with mates. And if you’re on TikTok train, which I’m refusing to get off, you already know how mindless scrolling through reaction or animal videos can boost your serotonin to a level that makes you forget all of life’s worries.
Presenter of The Book Show, RTÉ Radio One
My huge reasons to be cheerful are that both Only Connect and University Challenge are back on the TV with new series for the autumn. I am a devotee of proper TV quizzes (they’re few and far between) and find few things more soothing in times like these than being interrogated by Jeremy Paxman and Victoria Coren Mitchell. To be honest with you I had taken to watching old series on Youtube during lockdown.
Sister Stanislaus Kennedy
A renewed sense of the beauty of God found in all persons and creation. During this pandemic, as the air, water and soil pollution decreased, I was mesmerised by the beauty of nature. It was a reminder of the first time we saw Earth from space as the astronauts captured the incredible beauty of Earth and space itself.
Looking at art online and remembering that all the galleries will still be there when I can visit again.
Comedian and author
Five pigeons have been using my balcony as a doss house recently. They’ve become brazen, they don’t even twitch a feather when I open the door. Their loud sex noises disturb me but at least I’m not alone. It takes me back to my first house share in Dublin.
Comedy writer and actor
I’ve been doing a lot of painting – of pictures (although some walls as well) – and listening to TWR Radio, a soul station, from London. I’ve been quite cheerful.
Daily walks with my dogs and friends in our parks and on our strands. Being locked down in Dublin can be heaven. I count my blessings.
Co-director, Abbey Theatre
Discovering a fourth and, occasionally, even a fifth chord, on my 40-year-old acoustic guitar. Joy for me, dismay for my neighbours.
Director of the Arts Council
Right now, Patrick Freyne’s book of essays, Ok, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea, is giving me a big smile. His essay on singing is beautiful, uplifting and affecting. It ends “It’s all folk music. We’re all folk”. A message for our times.
Recording my voice-over for Gogglebox on Wednesday mornings makes me howl because I get to see all the funny bits that will air that night. And a take-away coffee on my daily walk of Dún Laoghaire pier. It’s worth every expensive penny and definitely lifts my mood.
Felicia Olusanya aka FeliSpeaks
Poet, performer, playwright
Doggie hugs and the hilarious Black British ladies of The Receipts Podcast.
As I love history, my big project during lockdown was reading Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland by the Four Masters, by John O’Donovan. It was a gift from the cabinet, the 27th government, and was presented to me when I finished as taoiseach. It has seven volumes, and I got through five during lockdown. I’m reading six now and I aim to finish the seventh by Christmas.
I sit down to the piano and sing Randy Newman’s Short People at the top of my voice until everyone in the house is awake.
Eating wild blackberries as I walk. Tasty treats warmed by the sun, sweet and juicy with the odd brazen sour one just to keep you on your toes. I love how boldly they stain, just to remind you later how nice they were. Nothing like them. My Dad always made us wait until we got home to wash them before eating. But now I’m an adult I can do as I please and I still get a rebellious thrill EVERY time I eat one straight off the bramble.
Spying on my neighbours and writing down their movements in a diary, it makes me feel like Agatha Christie, but without the murder bit.
Kit de Wal
An old black and white film, rain at the window, a pot of tea under a cosy, an old fashioned biscuit barrel (remember those?), somewhere in the house the muffled sound of someone doing artisan DIY, no reason to move.
Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science
My daughter Saoirse obviously helps me be cheerful. The world is so chaotic at minute and she has no idea. She is just so happy to have more time at home with her mammy and daddy. This might sound a bit naff but people all across the country give me a reason to be cheerful. Since this pandemic has hit, I’ve had face masks, scarves, cups, books, clothes for Saoirse sent to me. So people. And a cup of tea and some music – I have Dermot Kennedy on a lot.
I actually liked the solitude. it didn’t seem odd to me. It was a really funny thing, I think it really gave me a chance to be very quiet. I had my routine. I wrote all day. I’d have a Campari and soda at the end of the day and I had my thoughts about what I was going to eat, and I rather enjoyed all of that.
Walking with loyal Setanta my Bichon on the Seven Heads peninsula visualising the prospect of a pint in Mary O’Neill’s in Butlerstown at some stage; listening now and then to Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Diamond and Pavarotti and always enjoying the great iconic moments with family and friends that the world of sport continues to give.
People and chatting. Chatting with friends, family and loved ones – face-to-face, zoom-to-zoom, behind screens, behind masks – has become more than ever a joyous and healing thing. The art of conversation is thriving and is lovely to both see and experience. Never have I taken such pleasure in chatting with people. Wrapped up warm with cups of coffee on park benches and chattin’ for Ireland … It’s the new nightclub, and I love it.
Journalist and author of the Irish Times Unthinkable philosophy column
For reasons to be cheerful I’d always reach for a lesson from the Stoics: Setbacks can’t harm you unless you allow them to.
When it all gets a bit much, I reach for Spotify and blast out some funk/soul classics and cook like a maniac. Dancing is not optional. Chopping the veg in time to the music is.
Chris de Burgh
Diary entry March 12th. “Complete vocals for new album, day before lockdown.” Two weeks later.. “Dubai, Beirut, Summer European solo tour concerts cancelled. Premiere of Musical Robin Hood in Germany postponed to 2021, same with new album.” “Mmm, oh well, everyone else is having a hard time, stay positive. Go to my studio, play music REALLY REALLY LOUDLY, guitar and piano along with it, record songs for Facebook page … and remember, there is always hope in the human heart for better days ahead..”
Presenter The Late Debate, RTÉ Radio 1
I’m ridiculously cheered by the return of Bake Off. I watch it on my own when I get home from the Late Debate studio on Tuesday nights. There is always a detailed postmortem over breakfast on Wednesday morning with my two 10-year-olds who are serious authorities on soggy bottoms and reality show casting. And then there’s eating cake and watching An Extra Slice together on Fridays. What’s not to love?
Bookshops make me cheerful. Independent, dusty, book-filled places of wonder. I can spend hours trawling through the shelves getting seduced by a title or cover artwork until I have my arms full of delicious books. Also extra points if they have a cat; all bookshops should have a cat! Does Amazon have a cat ? … exactly!
What kept me cheerful during the first phase of the present bother was carpentry in support of gardening initiatives. My partner Paula (Meehan, the poet) embarked on a whirlwind raising of seedlings, and I was in charge of building various contraptions to further the fury of planting and to keep the jungle at bay. Now, in this new phase, I suspect that more ambitious constructions are looming on the horizon.
My cheerful start to my morning is my PA, and I have our routine goss session while I’m getting ready for the day. It could be about the Great British Bake-Off, local stuff or a rant about our personal lives. I hop on to my yoga mat for 20 minutes, have a good stretch, and always remember that irrespective how yesterday went, the sun will always rise again.
Getting your five-year-old to finally ride a bike after weeks of bumpy rides and scuffed knees.
Former Olympian and World Champion track and field athlete
I’ve been going for early morning walks along the back of the Great Island with my uncle Jim and his dogs Rex and Ziggy. It’s dry and crisp and windless, and even though it’s around five degrees, I couldn’t be more grateful for it.
Minister for Finance
I really missed the absence of sport early on. I am a really big fan of Fantasy Football League, which is the app where you select a team and compete with other fans for points. I’ve been playing it for years, and this year it’s even more important. From the moment it kicks off on Saturday morning until Sunday evening, I have an interest in sport. I have always followed the fortunes of my beloved Spurs. Now I care whether Manchester United can get their midfield together, or whether Brighton can keep a clean sheet. The state of Harry Kane’s hamstrings matters to me every weekend. Suddenly these little things are big things at the weekend. And thank God for it.
I wish I could say it’s something exciting or exotic, but my reason to be cheerful every day never ever changes, pandemic or not – my first thought every morning when I wake up are always relief and eternal gratitude for my healthy, happy children and that I found my soul mate in my husband, Steve. I am relentlessly cheerful because of his and my children’s love. With that anchoring my life, I always feel everything else is going to alright.
Broadcaster and author
My wife Aileen and I have taken up golf since the last week of July. I used to disdain it as a good walk ruined but we’re now playing nine holes three days a week. The two hours or so out on the course at Stepaside each time have been the most brilliant release from work and Covid-19. When I’m out there I think of little other than trying to get the next shot right, and I love being out in the fresh air, irrespective of the weather. It has happened very much to our surprise but I’m taking any enjoyable new experiences I can get.
Mary Lou McDonald
Sinn Féin leader
Early morning walks. Crisp fresh air. The company of a good book, strong tea (and sometimes something stronger!) The company of family and friends – albeit often electronically. The knowledge that this too shall pass.
Author and columnist
My regular morning swim in Lough Lene, Co Westmeath offers a wonderful shot of elation and vivacity every single time. It makes my brainwaves work in entirely new ways and connects me straight to the core of everything. But the real joy this year is the many others who are now also swimming in Ireland’s midland lakes. This is the year the Irish nation fell head over heels in love with swimming.
Christine Dwyer Hickey
Author of Tatty, this year’s One City One Book choice
When faced with a future as uncertain as ours, it is natural to seek solace elsewhere. And this is what I recommend: Nominate a space in your house as your reading corner. Make a cup of tea, throw a few biscuits on a plate, sit down, open your book and disappear. Make this a daily ritual. Remember to order your books from a proper bookshop; the arrival of the little brown package will cheer up your day. And they could do with your business. We don’t want to lose them – we have lost enough already.
Economist and Irish Times columnist
I’ve been reading about how the Renaissance came after the Black Death, the Roaring Twenties after the Spanish Flu, even the Swinging 60s after the 1958 Asian Flu pandemic. We can look forward to a period of amazing creativity when this thing is over. Our human response to adversity – now that’s one major reason to be cheerful.
Pop star, songwriter
Recently, I watched a video about an artisinal butter maker in France, called Monsieur Bordier, and he was so passionate about butter that it made me cry. I posted videos of myself crying about the butter man on Instagram because I am not ashamed of my emotions. Later, I was in M&S on a Percy Pigs mission, when I spotted a butter from the same region in France as Bordier’s butter. It was quite expensive for butter, but I bought it out of curiosity. It’s been two days and I have eaten half the block. I don’t recognise the person I was before this butter came into my life. It is so delicious, and every knob brings joy.
Irish Times Food writer, chef and co-owner with wife Máire of the Tannery Restaurant, Dungarvan
After a year of work, my campervan (aka “the money pit”) is finally completely pimped and ready to go for whenever I can break free.
One of my favourite mood lifters is to have a long soak in the bath. I first warn my two kids that I am taking a bath and not to disturb me because, despite the fact that I lock the door, they will still come knocking on the door. I make sure to change my bed linen while the bath is running so that I have crisp clean sheets to get into after my bath. Then I light a load of little tea lights and a nice, smelly candle in the bathroom and if I am reading a good book, I will read in the bath but more often than not, I will play some calming music, or sea sounds and just lie there and relax. There is nothing quite like it.
TikTok family time. where everyone spends the afternoon/evening leading a TikTok dance routine. Everyone can get involved, even Dad. It’s mighty craic altogether. Also, music. When the chips are down, and the mood is low there’s nothing like some old school tunes, from the 1980s/1990s. I’m on a Housemartins buzz at the moment.
Senator Eileen Flynn
Activist, community worker
I really love cleaning while I’m listening to Christy Moore, to The Wolfe Tones, to some really good Irish artists like The Script, and then I could even go to listening to anything from Nathan Carter to reggae music. I love listening to Christy Moore the best because I think he has a lot of our history, and it actually reminds me why I do what I do.
Writer, actor, producer
I put Geno by Dexyson in the bathroom and go nuts for three minutes. Gets out a lot of angst/tears/laughter/dance moves.
Broadcaster and Irish Times columnist
I know I should say my kids or the love of a good woman or sunny autumn days. And they are all great. But the word “cheerful” just makes me think of Redbreast Single Pot Irish Whiskey. Yum.
I’ve coped with the pandemic largely through the medium of yarn – like all serial knitters, I have a MOUNTAINOUS stash of yarn hidden, as much as possible, from the Husband. I got under the mountain in March and have been, inch by inch, knitting my way out. The struggle continues, as does the pandemic.
Author, creator Ross O’Carroll-Kelly
I’ve rediscovered my favourite treat from my childhood: the sugar sandwich, which made many dentists millionaires in the 1970s and 1980s. Believe it or not, it’s very simple to make. (1) Take two slices of very fresh bread. (2) Spread butter on them. (3) Sprinkle one heaped dessertspoon of granulated sugar onto each slice of bread. (4) Put one slice of bread on top of the other with the buttered and sugared sides facing. (4) Press down on it, leaving fingermarks in the bread. (5) Eat it.
I miss the theatre, so my big joy is getting up early in the morning, at 6am, to watch Sky Arts. They have so many extravagant productions, opera and ballet, many from the Sydney Opera House. I was getting ready to go for a walk the other morning but the Australian ballet were doing Cinderella and I couldn’t leave because the ugly sisters had such wonderful dance routines.
I can’t help but smile whenever I see a toddler waddling around in those little jeans they make for smallies, wearing a huge nappy underneath and pockets that are never, ever used. Bless them!
Lord Mayor of Dublin and Green Party councillor
Irish Times Irishman’s Diary columnist
We’ve had a houseful of kittens recently, in transit from down the country to new homes in Dublin. They’re causing chaos but they’re also relentlessly entertaining. And what makes me appreciate this more than usually now is the realisation that they’re doing exactly the same things that kittens have done for countless thousands of years, through war, famine, plague, and the rest. There is a similar message in the old Irish poem Pangur Bán, written by a monk in his scriptorium a millennium ago, which reminds us that whatever else happens, cats will still chase mice. Medieval book illumination is long gone, but feline technology hasn’t changed at all since then. So it is with the kittens. Even though we know all their punchlines, they still get a laugh a minute.
Former United States ambassador to the United Nations
Election Day has already come to America. Almost every major swing state – from Florida to Pennsylvania to Arizona – is already voting, and many tens of millions of votes have already been cast. After such divisiveness, lies, and incompetent policy making, American voters finally have the chance to express their views on President Trump’s performance. One can be nervous about the outcome, and still be cheered that this day of reckoning has come at last.
Architect and TV presenter
I have been sea swimming since lockdown and have kept it up. Nothing lifts my mood like it and I have become a pain in the arse telling everyone who doesn’t “you’ve got to try it, you don’t know what your missing”. I’m normally a bit shy, but I’ll talk to anyone in the water.
Lawyer and former adviser to Barack Obama
As soon as my husband and I hear the theme music for one of our favourite, binge-worthy TV shows – The Office, for example – the air guitar and air drumming begin. It’s less than a minute of complete silliness that leaves us laughing and impressed by our musical talent.
Irish Times columnist
The damn dogs.
Le Bureau, a riveting thriller set in the French external security service. If you watch nothing else.
All the women who automatically cut up my food when I smashed my shoulder (after a damn dog bolted with me attached).
The neighbour who finally perfected sourdough and her mother who makes Ireland’s best apple tart.
The garden. A lovesome thing. A total inability to retain plant names is a minor drawback.
Author of Word Perfect and Countdown word expert
If there’s one thing that’s allowed me to keep my sanity and some sense of cheer this year, it’s been my trusty old bike. It may not be pretty, but it’s allowed me to escape into my own, sweaty (and occasionally sweary) world for an hour or two most days. I’ve avoided the usual routes and followed my wheels through alleyways, streets and lanes I didn’t know existed. And there’s nothing like conquering a ridiculously steep hill to make you feel that, for a moment at least, you can manage anything.
Director of the Dublin Theatre Festival
I have been swimming at Forty Foot for years but since the start of the summer I’ve gone there more often than ever, cycling from Phibsborough to meet people for a 7.30am dip, on up to five weekday mornings. It’s followed by juvenile slagging on WhatsApp, about who showed up and who skived off, or more recently discussions about the decreasing sea temperature (one of us brings a pool thermometer) and how long into the winter we can all last. The round trip is around two hours total, where you might spend only 10 to 20 minutes in the water, but as I’ve been sitting at my desk afterwards and the endorphins pulse through me, it feels like the best possible way to start the day.
Bruce Springsteen’s lockdown radio show from his farm in New Jersey. He is the soulful, blue-collar statesman we all need. I laugh, cry and dance in every single episode.
I’m a big believer in building a few routine pleasures into the day. Since the lockdown in the spring, I have changed my exercise routine from the evening to the morning. So Pleasure One is walking, jogging, or cycling for about an hour before breakfast, and without being too Wordsworthian about it, I find enormous solace in nature. I’ve even memorised some lines from Tintern Abbey which I recite to myself. Pleasure Two is having coffee in the afternoon with a scone or slice of cake that I’ve baked. I’m banking on Pleasure One balancing out the effects of Pleasure Two.
It’s autumn. That wonderful time before the clocks go back when it’s still bright, the leaves turn brown and crunch beneath your feet. It’s a pleasure on a bright, crisp, dry, cool day to go for a walk and take it all in. That’s something we can look forward to in the weeks ahead, no matter what they bring.